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Bizarre Fungus Resembles Animal Droppings

Pisolithus tinctorius: the Dyemaker’s Puffball, aka the “Dog Turd” Fungus

Fungi come in a multitude of shapes and sizes, though the most recognizable and familiar tend to be the toadstools, with the classic umbrella cap.  An incredibly diverse kingdom with somewhere between 1.5 and 5 million species , fungi are ubiquitous yet often quite inconspicuous.  Fungi often go unnoticed due to the bulk of their bodies, or mycelia, being located underground.  When we do notice fungi, it is often the fruiting body, or sporocarp, that emerges.  Commonly this fruiting body is a mushroom, although other forms include puffballs and morels.

Classic toadstool mushrooms. Via mushroomexpert.com (photo by Pamela Kiminski)

A few months ago I noticed what looked like animal droppings in my back yard near the trashcans and the side of the hill.  I don’t have any pets, but I do live in a rural area where animals often visit the yard.  After several weeks, I dismissed this animal poop theory as I noticed the brown lumpy object appear to increase in size.  Now it somewhat resembled a clump of dirt, possibly a divot from a ground squirrel or gopher hole.

I decided to give it a closer look, and entertain the idea that it might be a fungus.   Sure enough, upon googling “dog poop fungus”,  I discovered that I was graced with Pisolithus tinctorius, aka “Dog Turd Fungus” or more properly, a “Dyemaker’s Puffball” in my yard.

Pisolithus tinctorius

Pisolithus tinctorius is a mycorrhizal fungus, or a fungus that lives symbiotically with the roots of a tree, in this case most often conifers or oaks.  The fungus helps the tree absorb water and nutrients, and in return the tree provides sugars and amino acids to the fungus.  There are a few young oak trees on the hill next to this fungus, which most likely explain its presence in my yard.  It turns out that Pisolithus tinctorius is often used by foresters and gardeners to assist the growth of trees and other plants.  It grows in poor and sandy soils, which makes it very valuable for plant life:  a blessing in disguise for my yard!

Now, what  is the explanation for the alternate name, “Dyemaker’s Puffball?”  Unbeknownst to me, many species of mushrooms and puffball fungi  can actually be used to dye wool!  Pisolithus tinctorius is one of them, and would result in reddish-brown to black color.

To learn more about Pisolithus tinctorius, visit Tom Volk’s Fungus of the Month and Mushroom Expert.

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